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Art Deco: 5 Artists You have to Know about

Five great artists and their creative input into the development of the Art Deco movement

These five artists made their styles bright, fancy and unforgettable; their works are not just the exponents of prestigious museums, but are still contemporary and are used in TV and on-line projects almost a century after their creation. Art Deco, an influential style in arts and design that was globally popular during the Interwar period (1919-1939) is the source of inspiration for many present creators. It was described by writer Brian JR Blench as the style “for luxury and leisure, for comfort and conviviality. It is an exciting style and should, like the archetypical drink of the period, the cocktail, be enjoyed while it is still laughing at you”. That movement was frequently featured with deep colours, interesting geometric forms and rich ornamentation. It was eclectic and it combined traditional ornamental patterns with Machine Age metaphors and symbols.

Tamara de Lempicka – the first woman painter to be a glamour star

Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) is one of the brightest stars of the Art Deco epoch. She was a Polish-born artist and the first woman painter to be a glamour star, who became the main representative of the Art Deco style worldwide. She was a preferred artist of many Hollywood fames and was addressed as „the baroness with a brush”. The whole Deco movement was very much influenced by Cubism and Lempicka’s art was no exception. However, her pieces are much more sophisticated, elegant and glamorous, like she was.

Tamara de Lempicka – Art Déco

Her works feature rich colours, clean and precise lines and, of course, subtle but characteristic cubist expression. One of my favourite pieces is her self-portrait, Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti), for the cover of German fashion magazine Die Dame. It’s a beautiful portrait of an independent and ultra-modern woman of her time.

Self -Portrait in Green Bugatti by Tamara De Lempicka (1925). Oil on wood. Private collection.

By Sél. Licensed under CC BY 3.0, via Picasa Web Albums,

Lempicka was very successful. She was painting kings, industrialists and emigre nobility, and museums began to collect her works during her lifetime.

Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron – an artist, whose posters have a historical meaning

Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron (1901-1968), or Cassandre, is a French artist who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine and relocated to Paris, where he studied in the most prestigious art schools. He was a painter, graphic artist and stage designer, whose creativity was under the influence of cubism, surrealism and Bauhaus school, but he added some artistic touches to his posters and transformed them into a form of art. His renowned work, Bûcheron (Woodcutter), won the Grand Prix for poster design at the Paris Expo in 1925. That victory brought him the status of the top Art Deco graphic artist. He became popular and opened his own advertising agency, Alliance Graphique. His clients particularly appreciated his travel advertising projects, which were inspired by speed and technology.

The poster Normandie (1935) is one of Cassandre’s most famous design

By Solipsist. Licensed under CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons,

Cassandre was a successful artist; the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris hold the exhibitions of his lifetime works. In 1963, he even created the Yves Saint Laurent logo.

Erté – the lifelong career of a wonderful costume designer

Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), or Erté, was born in St Petersburg, Russia, into the family of an admiral of the Imperial Fleet. Erté had a lot of opportunities to develop his talent and he took inspiration from the artistic legacy of different countries, which affected his decision to move to Paris, where he had a wonderful teacher, Paul Poiret. The Parisian couturier helped Erté create the name and to organise his first substantial contract with Harper’s Bazaar. During the next twenty-two years, Erté designed more than 240 covers for that magazine and became the world’s leading fashion illustrator.

Romain de Tirtoff (Erté)

As he later said, „Every human being has a duty to make himself as attractive as possible. Not many of us are born beautiful; […] Clothes are a kind of alchemy.” His costumes also brightened Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Folies-Bergère (the first music hall in Paris), Broadway stages and great stars such as Joan Crawford and Anna Pavlova. At age 75, Erté decided to start recreating his designs in bronze and serigraphy.

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann – a magician of luxury furniture and interiors

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann (1879 – 1933) was a French interior and furniture designer, whose style was defined by the ability to present the aristocratic chic of the past in modern adaptation by means of luxury materials and great professionalism. Stephen Kelly, one of the famous New York Art Deco dealers, says about his pieces: “Ruhlmann created everything with elegant lines and technical perfection. He made wood look opulent by using exotic Makassar ebony, amboynas, rosewood and amaranth, and employed shagreen, ivory, tortoiseshell and lacquer to enhance his unique designs.”

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann ‚The ‚Redhead’ dressing table’

Ruhlmann was certainly favoured by the post-war bourgeois classes who wanted to show up with their fortune in style. The designer, who died during the age of Art Deco progress, said about his own works, “Only the very rich can pay for what is new and they alone can make it fashionable.”

Jean Després – magnificent jewellery inspired by the Machine Age

Jean Eugene Gilbert Després (1889 – 1980) was a hereditary French jeweller, who moved to Paris from the provinces and, at night after work, studied design. Any chance that he had for leisure time was spent in Montmartre, where he became great friends with Georges Braque, one of Cubism founders. During WWI, Després was working with aircraft parts. This had a great impact on his later jewellery pieces, which became symbols of the new aesthetic.  The designs, based on geometric elements, were “very Cubist”, some of them even brutal and looked more like machine parts. Basically, the jeweller worked with semi precious stones like onyx, coral, chalcedony, malachite and lapis for colour, sometimes enamels and very rarely gold.

Designs by Jean Després

He was nick-named „the Picasso of jewellery work”, was a participant of all the important exhibitions and he won various prizes. His pieces were purchased by many famous personalities, such as Anatole France, Paul Signac and Andy Warhol, who was a most enthusiastic collector.

Artists and their legacy

The artworks are the artists’ main legacy, which will speak for themselves long after the artists have left us. Maybe that’s why we still remember Art Deco artists and the whole movement.